Italy and France Agree on Patrols to Block Tunisian Migrants

Italy and France Agree on Patrols to Block Tunisian Migrants
# 09 April 2011 04:17 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Italy and France agreed on Friday to carry out joint sea and air patrols to prevent Tunisian migrants from arriving in Italy, a move that appeared to ease tensions between them over how to contend with thousands of North African migrants who have landed in Italy since January, APA reports quoting “The New York Times”.
After a meeting in Milan on Friday, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and his French counterpart, Claude Guéant, said the two countries would work together to patrol the coasts and enforce an accord between Italy and Tunisia, a former French colony, on the return of migrants.
“We agreed on the need to develop a joint action between Italy and France on certain issues,” Mr. Maroni said at a news conference. He added that both countries would “take initiatives to block the departure of illegal migrants from Tunisia.”
Since unrest began in Tunisia in December, leading to the overthrow of the president in January, more than 20,000 migrants have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa. But when the island became overwhelmed Italy began moving them to makeshift tent camps on the mainland. Many have easily escaped and crossed the border into France.
Tensions between Italy and France have been brewing since France sent back to Italy about 1,700 of 2,400 Tunisians who had crossed the border, figures cited by Mr. Guéant this week.
The issue has underscored strains in the European Union over the application of the Schengen agreement, which loosens border controls among the union’s 27 member nations except Britain and Ireland. It also comes at a time when the domestic politics of both Italy and France are shaped by parties with strong anti-immigrant agendas: the National Front in France and Italy’s Northern League, of which Mr. Maroni is a member.
Earlier this week Mr. Maroni said that France should be thrown out of the Schengen agreement if it would not honor the six-month residence permits that Italy said it would begin granting to qualified Tunisians. Mr. Guéant had said France has no such obligation.
Apparently in a concession Mr. Guéant said on Friday that France would allow migrants who held valid documents from member states into the country, but he added that the Tunisians must have “economic resources.”
The legal status of someone who enters one European Union country without documents and then crosses into a second union country appears to fall into a gray area.
“Both the Italian and the French position are legitimate,” said Oliver Bailly, a spokesman for the union on economic and financial policies. “Under the Schengen treaty, the E.U. is a free movement area, but the problem is when this free movement principle contradicts what member states perceive as possible problems for their public order.”
Lampedusa is closer to Tunisia than to the Italian mainland and Italy has repeatedly said that it is unfairly shouldering a European burden because of its proximity. Earlier this week Mr. Maroni traveled to Tunisia to try to persuade it to patrol its coast and honor its repatriation agreement with Italy.
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